Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ace and the Improbable

Yesterday my husband and I took our dog Jack to the vet. (Jack’s okay, just a case of trashcan-itis, as the doc put it. Nothing some antibiotics won’t cure.) While we were waiting for a test result, we took Jack and our other dog, Ace, for a walk. Just a quick one to pass the time and occupy the dogs. We were strolling down the sidewalk, admiring some of the older homes and their yards, when Ace abruptly stopped and squatted on someone’s lawn. Of course we didn’t have any bags for the business on us, and we’d walked about five minutes away from the vet’s office. I handed my husband the leash I was holding and said, “Wait here, I’ll run there and be right back!” I had only made it a couple sidewalk squares away when something registered in my awareness. I stopped and looked back and there, hanging from a tree branch two feet above my husband, was a plastic grocery bag. I kid you not.

My husband didn’t understand why I was dilly-dallying.

“There’s a bag!” I said.


“In the tree!”

And he looked at me like I’d really lost it this time. But then he looked up and sure enough: a white bag rustling in the breeze.

“No way!” he said. (Actually, I think he said “No bleep,” and I pointed at Ace’s business on the ground and said, “Yes bleep,” and then he unhooked the bag from its branch.)

It’s funny how things like this can happen in real life, but if I tried to work something like that into a fictional story chances are it wouldn’t fly. Sure, it’s always possible if the material was handled right it could work, but I think the feedback I’d most likely get would be along the lines of: “They’re in desperate need of a plastic bag and then one just happens to appear in a tree? That they are standing right next to? Way too convenient and improbable.” I suppose this is why we have the saying "the truth is stranger than fiction".

And speaking of Ace and the improbable, today Ace has finally achieved something he’s been striving to do for years. He’s a role model in perseverance this guy:

Friday, January 16, 2009

High-Five Friday

Five happy things from the week:

1. Small Graces. Author and illustrator Grace Lin is auctioning off an original 5x5 piece of artwork every month with 100% of the proceeds benefiting The Foundation for Children’s Books. (This is the same Grace Lin who co-founded the Robert’s Snow fundraiser.) Over the last year I’ve noticed quite a number of authors and illustrators using their blogs or internet presence to bring attention to and/or raise money to support various causes. I think this is a wonderful and amazing thing.

2. Along the lines of wonderful and amazing things that writers are doing, fAiRy gOdSisTeRs, iNk has announced their 2nd Annual SCBWI Summer Conference Scholarship. The lucky recipient will receive a $1500 scholarship to the LA conference. Click on the link for more details.

3. My previously mentioned breakthrough in my revisions made me happy (see last post), and in general all the writing progress I’ve made this week. The next batch of my proofreading project arrives on Tuesday so I’m hoping I can keep up the writing pace (or some of the pace) while balancing it with work responsibilities.

4. This box of tangerines arrived from my parents yesterday. They also have a lemon tree and an orange tree in their backyard, and I’m hoping I’ll be the recipient of some of that bounty too. Citrus trees are one of the things I miss about California. I’ve been tempted to buy one of those small Meyer lemon trees to keep in our house. We have a lot of windows and a sunny exposure, so I think it would do okay. (Assuming the dogs and the cat leave it alone.) But it definitely wouldn't be the same as my parent’s giant orange tree, lemon tree, and tangerine tree.

5. Spent the morning snowboarding with my husband at Breckenridge. It was a gorgeous day in the mountains. Wide-open runs, freshly groomed, no lines. We got in about 8-9 runs and then left and were back home by 12:30, where we had very pleasant mid-60 degree weather. Spent the afternoon working on revisions. That’s a pretty perfect day in my world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I had a sun-rays-part-the-clouds-to-beam-down-on-me-while-angels-sing-hallalujah writing moment this week. I figured out a solution to a problem with the structure of my novel that had been niggling around in the back of my mind, and which I had been denying was actually a problem. And, as is often the case with a S.R.P.T.C.T.B.D.O.M.W.A.S.H writing moment, once the solution came to me it was so obvious. Obvious as in “I have two eyeballs” obvious, or “the Running Man is a far superior 80s dance to the Roger Rabbit” obvious.

The first part of my book has been worked over roughly 632 times, but it still wasn’t feeling quite right to me. My two main concerns were 1) I was taking too long to get to the inciting incident that launches Part II, and 2) There was not even one iota of the mystery storyline in the two chapters where my main character has her first day at a new school. When these doubts cropped up, I’d just say hush and tell myself things like, “Well, Harry Potter doesn’t find out he’s a wizard until 50 pages into The Sorcerer’s Stone,” or “It makes sense for the mystery storyline not to come up during her first day of school—she’s got a lot of other stuff on her mind.” On the one hand, these things are true, but on the other hand, they’re just excuses to make myself feel better because I didn’t know how to fix the problem. I banged my head against the locker, so to speak, trying to make those first day of school chapters work in Part I, but it just wasn’t happening. Any change I came up with felt forced and like I was trailing more of the same mystery breadcrumbs that had already been laid out. And perhaps most important, no amount of fiddling that I did within those chapters could change the problem of taking too long to get to the inciting incident. So I said screw it and moved on to a different part of the book that was a lot more fun to work on.

And, of course, that is when The Obvious came knocking at my door.

“Why can’t the inciting incident happen before her first day of school?”

“Well, uh,” I stuttered to The Obvious. “Because that’s not how it happens.”

“But why not? Why can’t it be?”

“Because . . . that’s not how I imagined it.”

Ding Ding Ding! That was the key for me there. I imagined it. The whole shebang—the characters and the plotlines and the mystery and the timeline. It’s all stuff I made up. I’ve been working with the ideas for so long that some things start to feel solidified, like that’s the way they have to be. In this case, it was my timeline. But when I really thought about it, there was no reason why the school chapters had to fall where they did. Changing around the timeline solved both of the issues that had been worrying me. Now there is a continuous (hopefully page-turning) build to the climax of Part I, and we get to that point much more quickly because there are two less chapters (actually, three, because I deleted one altogether). There’s also the added bonus of a new layer of tension built into the first day of school scenes, since they now follow the inciting incident instead of precede it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Word Is. . .

Your Word is "Hope"

You see life as an opportunity for learning, growth, and bringing out the best in others.

No matter how bad things get, you always have at least a glimmer of optimism.

You are accepting and forgiving. You encourage those who have wronged you to turn over a new leaf.

And while there is a lot of ugliness in the world, you believe that almost no one is beyond redemption.

Friday, January 9, 2009

High-Five Friday

Five happy things from my week:

1. Really good writing week. Really good. And I intend to have a good writing weekend too. I’m getting better at making my writing time a priority and not feeling (too) guilty about it. It helps that I’m waiting for the next batch of my current proofreading project to arrive. It sure is easier to devote time to writing when it doesn’t have to compete with work obligations.

2. I’m getting a free book! I love free books. There are five books coming out this year that I’m already looking forward to reading: Silksinger by Laini Taylor (the sequel to Blackbringer), Lips Touch also by Laini Taylor (I think this is going to be a good year for her), the sequel to Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. And the other book I’ve been looking forward to is Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch. And that’s the book I’m getting for free—YAY! He posted on his blog that he had a few left to give out, I emailed, bim, bam, boom, free book for me. Sophomore Undercover will be his debut novel, out in February I think. I initially read about him on Alice Pope’s blog and was intrigued, so I clicked the link to find out more. He’s hilarious. He's got some blog posts that really crack me up. (There’s some pretty funny banter that goes on in his comments too.) But it was the author pic on his website that prompted me to subscribe. It’s not your run-of-the-mill author photo, that’s all I’ll say. He strikes me as a unique voice to the young adult field, but at the same time his humor reminds me of a bunch of my high school and college friends. If his book is half as funny as his blog and website, I suspect he will quickly find a fan base.

3. I found out that the ALA Midwinter Meeting is going to be in Denver this year. This means more free books!

4. I also found out that two of my favorite friends are expecting a baby. They are going to make fantastic parents, and I am super-duper excited for them.

5. I’m trying something new with my resolutions this year. I joked about them in an earlier post, but honestly, it bummed me out that, of the goals I’d set so optimistically in the beginning of 2008, I couldn’t legitimately check any off my list by year’s end. That’s not to say I didn’t accomplish anything in 2008—I accomplished a ton. Just not the things on my list. It wouldn’t be a big deal to me if I had looked at the resolutions on my 2008 list and thought, well why did I want to do that? Sometimes our priorities and aspirations change in the course of a year. But my 2008 list is pretty much all things that I still hope to accomplish in 2009, so I feel like somewhere along the path of last year I was sidetracked from working toward the goals that are most important to me.

Okay, #5 is starting to feel like a downer. Where’s the happy, right?

Well, for this year I made a list of year-long goals, like I usually do. My vision of where I hope to be and what I hope to accomplish by this time next year. But then what I did, which I didn’t do last year, is also make monthly and weekly goals. I haven’t planned out the whole year or anything. I know that would be futile because of that whole “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” deal. I only looked at January and thought what do I want to accomplish this month? What do I need to do this month? What am I capable of accomplishing this month? And then I did the same thing for this week. And guess what? It looks like I’m on track to meet my weekly goals. So, high-five!

Any high-fives from your week to share?

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"We left the Packard on the street and took
two rooms at a boardinghouse where the wallpaper
slumped and the lightbulbs buzzed and browned."

Isn't that wonderful description? Sparse, but a picture immediately forms in my mind. I love especially "lightbulbs buzzed and browned". It's from So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger. A book that I'm enjoying a lot even though it's taking me forever to read it. (Not the fault of the book.)

Just wanted to share. That is all.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On Tap-Dancing Monkeys and Time Machines

My gym was packed tonight. I had to wait ten minutes just to use one of the lowest-on-the-totem-pole cardio machines: the stairmaster. Which can only mean one thing: Happy New Year!

We’re a few steps into 2009 and, personally speaking, so far so good. My husband and I rang in the New Year by making a nice dinner (don’t ask me what—it’s only been six days and I can’t remember. But it involved the stove and more than three ingredients, so it was real fancy pants) and watching Back to the Future. Boy, that movie holds up well. And the soundtrack: awesome. I think I need to put Huey Lewis and the News’s Power of Love back on my gym mix. I could have sworn I’d seen the movie somewhat recently but as we watched it I realized there were a lot of parts I’d forgotten. Huey Lewis’s cameo as a judge when Marty McFly and his band try out for the school show, for example. And: “The Libyans!” And: “Great Scott!” Or Marty McFly’s 1955 mom calling him Calvin Klein because she thinks that’s his name sewn into his underwear. And how excellent Crispin Glover was as his dad.

From a writer’s perspective, and as someone who is working on a mystery, I particularly noted how well small details were planted that come up later for an important storyline or for comic effect. Enough attention is drawn to the small detail that you notice it, but the main focus is on something else in the scene so when it ends, that’s what you’re left thinking about, not the small detail. For example, in the beginning of the movie Marty is talking to his girlfriend Jennifer. They’re walking through the town square and in the background there’s a table of people trying to raise money to save the clock tower. One of the fundraiser people interrupts Marty and Jennifer’s conversation, so you definitely notice the fundraisers, but they’re just an aside. It’s Marty and Jennifer’s conversation that is really carrying the scene. Marty’s worried about his musical future, they’re making plans for a special date. At the end of the scene Jennifer’s dad shows up, and she has to leave. She needs to give Marty her grandmother’s phone number so she grabs a flyer from the fundraising table, writes on the back, and hands it to Marty. He tucks it in his pocket and the flyer is totally forgotten until he pulls it out in 1955 and it provides Marty with the answer for how he can get back to the future. I was marveling at how well that was executed, because things like that can easily come off as too convenient or coincidental, but this really didn’t.

We also saw Jersey Boys last Friday, which I’d seen once before, but it is so worth seeing multiple times. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a fantastic musical. The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. There’s a lot of swearing, so it's definitely not kid-friendly. But it’s very well done. Creative staging. Funny. Well-told story. The first time I saw it I was surprised at how many of their songs I know and like. I was like a broken record to my mom: “I didn’t know this song was theirs. . .”

I guess I’ve started off 2009 with a lot of nostalgia and looking back, haven’t I? 80s movie and one of the great boy bands of the 60s. Odd since this is the traditional time for looking forward and goal setting. I’m a big time list maker, so usually I’m all over drafting up my resolutions. I opened up my file of resolutions for 2008 recently and was surprised to see that not one thing on the list could be checked off. Not one! Which gives me pause in drafting up a new list. I’m inclined to go one of two ways. I’m thinking along the lines of this:

1. Wake up every day.
2. Go to sleep at some point.

Or this:

1. Adopt an orphaned monkey.
2. Teach him to tap dance.
3. Get on America’s Got Talent with your tap-dancing monkey.
4. Win America’s Got Talent.
5. Impress David Hasselhoff so much that he asks you to sing a duet with him on his next album and film a video featuring the tap-dancing monkey.
6. Turn David Hasselhoff down, but take a picture with him for next year’s holiday card. Score!

Right? Either aim so low I’m sure to succeed or so ridiculously high I can look those superior resolution achievers in the eye and say, “What? How about you try to find an orphaned monkey in Colorado and tell me how well that works out for you.” I’m onto something here, aren’t I?

And now, for a little mix of nostalgia and present(ish) day all wrapped in one musical ball of fun. . .

Biff sings!